Justins World

Djibouti Desert Delights

The real reason anyone comes to visit Djibouti is to either go whale shark spotting or to travel out into the desert to Lac Abbe and Lac Assal. Some only do the day trip to Lac Assal but we were on a 2 day adventure deep into the Djibouti desert.  It wasn’t all that comfortable at times but it was truly an amazing experience!

It is about 2 hour to the last major town of Dikhil before we reached the desert. The road is a truck highway all heading to Addis Ababa, loads with goods for the millions of people in that city. Djibouti as a country doesn’t even have a million people. A minor accident when our mirror got smashed by a loose strap on a truck was not a great start either, but the journey continued.  Once we left the road the magic truly happened.  We sped across the salt flats racing antelope stride for stride. We stopped as baboons blocked the way. we saw camels and donkeys grazing and working. Amazingly though we saw the Afar people who live in the arid landscape and manage to survive.

antelope on the salt flats

As the day was getting close to an end we arrived at the amazing Lac Abbe. Strange towers or mud and rock poked upwards into a sky, only visible now because the water has receded.  They were formed by hot spring water and the rock and mud cooling around it as the lake water cooled it.  The lake is still there in the distance, but it plays second fiddle to the alien landscape left behind.

Lac Abbe

The camp for the night is fairly basic, a camp stretcher, a mattress, a sheet and mosquito net were provided. The wind was howling as we went to sleep, the dome-shaped shelters resembling those the Afar build allowed for the wind to blow through the tent often flapping the door open. once the wind stopped around midnight, I ventured outside and the night sky was clear and spectacular.  The sunrise was just as spectacular, as we visited several hot spring bubbling to the surface amongst the alien landscape.

We continued our journey back to civilisation and paved roads and made out way to the easily accessible Lac Assal. We still passed camels, donkeys and baboons along these sealed roads. We descended to Lac Assal, over 150m below sea level and the lowest point in Africa and one of the lowest in the world.

Racing camels

The water is 10 times saltier than the sea and like the dead sea, you can float in this lake.  The issue is the water is not terribly deep where we could access the lake from and the salt crystals can cut your feet and then the subsequent stinging as the saltwater touches the wound is not pleasant. I’d experienced this in Jordan, so I watched from a distance as people wandered into the lake ankle deep.

Lac Assal

The two day trip to see the amazing landscape of Djibouti, definitely justified my decision to come here. It is a place no one has heard of, is a stable African nation (which is why there are 5 foreign military bases here) and has amazing scenery and wildlife.  I’m not seeing the whale sharks but add that in and I can see why people come here from Europe for a longish weekend.

2 thoughts on “Djibouti Desert Delights

  1. Noel Kemp

    How does the salinity compare with the Dead Sea (I can’t remember how salty that is)? Did you get near the vulcanism – or is that further away? From your photo I don’t believe that they are racing camels (the truck might be moving but they look pretty darned stationary to me – boom boom!). Keep having fun there!

    1. justin Post author

      No I didn’t go into the Danakil, where the volcanic action is. The idea of still needing an armed guard didn’t sit comfortably with me. As it was some places in Ethiopia, felt on edge and others felt more chilled like Axum and Bahir Dar. Gondar is definitely a city with a lot of tension in it and we met travellers who’d been assaulted.

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